Many in Great Britain were looking back upon the horrors of World War I. The novel by the German author, Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front, had been published in 1929, and it was a sensation in Britain. There were other widely-read books on the horrors of World War I, including Vera Brittain's memoirs of nursing during the war, Testament of Youth. The British were also reading about Gandhi, who was frequently in the news in Britain concerning his non-violent, civil disobedience campaigns in India. And, in response to the horrors of war, some in Britain saw hope in Gandhi's pacifism preventing their nation from again going to war. And they hoped for Gandhi's pacifism being adopted in all nations.
Albert Einstein also saw some hope in Gandhi's civil disobedience. In a much-quoted speech that he gave in New York in September 1930, he declared that pacifists should stop talking and replace their words with deeds. He said that if only two percent of those assigned to perform military service refused to fight, governments would be powerless. They would not, he declared, send such a large number to jail.
The peace movement in Britain grew, joined by various professionals: teachers, doctors, psychologists, lawyers, prominent people of faith, trade unionists, socialists, followers of Tolstoy, novelists and some who were seen as philosophers. A peace enthusiast from California sent to London a book sixteen feet wide which he wished to have driven around Europe on a flatbed truck, hoping that the book would be filled with declarations for peace from every prominent man and woman in Europe.
In September 1931, when Japan's Kwantung army went on the offensive within Manchuria, a pacifist leader in England, Maude Royden, stated to her Christian congregation her intent to enroll people to put their bodies between the Japanese and Chinese armies. This required a speed and mobility that some armies lacked, and, before Royden could organize her move, the Japanese army had stopped fighting, and Royden had no way of knowing whether the fighting would resume, or where exactly it would resume. In January 1932, when Japanese troops were sent to Shanghai, a group of eight hundred British pacifists enrolled to put their bodies between the Japanese army and the Chinese. But the Japanese took control of Shanghai within a month, accomplishing their aims again before the pacifists could deploy their force.
When Hitler came to power in January 1933, the British became more concerned about the likelihood of war. The question of war was debated on university campuses in both Britain and the United States. In the U.S. in 1933, Brown University polled 21,725 students from sixty-five U.S. colleges, and the poll found 8,415 who declared themselves pacifists, 7,221 who believed that the only justification for their nation bearing arms would be its having been invaded, and only 6,089 who declared that they would fight another war if the government ordered them to do so. [note] In February 1933, students at Oxford University debated the question that "this House will in no circumstance fight for king and country." At the conclusion of the debate, 275 undergraduates voted against fighting for king and country, and 153 voted for fighting for king and country. Newspapers described the debate, and many in Britain were dismayed. The controversy over the debate inspired another, larger, noisier debate at Oxford, with Winston Churchill's son, Randolph, leading the debate against the pacifists. And the pacifists won by a larger margin: 750 to 138. Similar debates at the London School of Economics resulted in a pacifist resolution that was supported unanimously. Aberystwyth University in Wales voted 186 to 99 for pacifism. Manchester University voted for pacifism 371 to 196. And students in Canada and New Zealand voted with the Oxford pacifists.
Hitler was watching, and, contemptuous of pacifism, he was encouraged. Winston Churchill was outraged.
Copyright © 1998-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.